Works for Piano Four Hands
Linn Records CKD642 80:02 mins
The Czech composer and piano soloist, Jan Ladislav Dussek, was something of a rock star where audiences in late-18th and- early- 19th-century Europe were concerned. Admired for his good looks and dazzling virtuosity, at the height of his fame he drew huge crowds to concerts and was friend to many of the finest musicians of the day; even the great Haydn spoke enthusiastically of his ‘remarkable talents’.
These ‘talents’ are abundantly evident in his surviving music for four hands presented here. Dussek continually disarms the listener by contrasting the predictable with the audacious: the Grand Overture in C sets the scene with a portentous Largo which gives way to a Molto Allegro replete with some remarkably adventurous modulation. At the other end of the collection, the C major Duo is not quite as striking, but certainly worthy of attention. Dussek was a fine contrapuntist and the three fugues, with their fascinating harmonic palette certainly reward repeated listing, although perhaps the D major fugue with its slightly saucy opening subject and radiant conclusion, takes the palm. Richard Egarr and Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya are superb advocates blending virtuosity and understated elegance in performances that truly inhabit the music. For some ears the 1848 Pleyel on which they play may be an acquired taste, but the more one listens, the richer the contrasts between bass and treble, heard most effectively in the complex textures of fugues, energise these captivating works. Excellently recorded, this rewarding issue greatly enriches our understanding of the pre-Romantic piano repertoire.